N° 40 | December 2009

Time pressure a barrier to healthy eating and physical activity

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Healthy eating and physical activity are key components for good health. Even if adequate nutrition and physical activity are known to be important in the prevention of chronic disease, particularly in obesity1, public health recommen-dations are far from being met in Australia. One of the barriers to meet the nutrition recommendations is time pressure2-3. Time constraints are also reported as a barrier for physical activity4-5.
The aim of the present study6 was to describe the proportion and characteristics of women who report time pressure as a barrier of physical activity, healthy eating, in particular fruits, vegetables and fast-food intakes, and to describe the perceived cause of time pressure.

This survey concerns Australian women

Socio-demographic details of on average 3,000 women were obtained by questionnaires.

Causes of perceived time pressure were allowed with 10 items:

  • “long hours at work/study“,
  • “inflexible hours at work/study“,
  • “unpredictable hours at work/study”,
  • “working unusual hours at work/study”,
  • “family commitments to children”,
  • “family commitments to other family”,
  • “commitments to friend/relatives”,
  • “volunteer and community work”.

Women were asked about their fruit and vegetables (F&V) consumption. Based on nutritional guidelines, they were then categorized as meeting fruit guidelines (>2 servings/day) and vegetables guidelines (> 5 servings/day). Only 5% of women eat the recommended vegetable daily intake, so that women who consumed 3 to 5 servings/day were categorized as high consumers and those who consumed less than 2 servings/day as low consumers. They were also asked about fast-food consumption and categorized infrequent (1 meal/week or less) or frequent (>1 meal/week) consumers.

Women meeting recommended physical activity had more than 150 min/week of at least moderate-intensity physical activity.

Time pressure as a barrier to healthy eating

Time pressure was reported as a barrier to healthy eating by 41% of the women. Women under 30 years, with higher level of education, never married and working, reported more likely time pressure as a barrier to healthy eating.

Time pressure was also reported as a barrier to physical activity by 73% of the women. Women under 39 years, with higher level of education, never married, having no children at home and working, reported more likely time pressure as a barrier to healthy eating.

For women who reported time pressure as a barrier 47%, 74% and 55% did not meet fruits, vegetables and physical activity guidelines, while 13% were frequent fastfood consumers.

For women for whom time pressure is not a barrier 34%, 60% and 45% did not meet fruits, vegetables and physical activity guidelines, while 9% were frequent fastfood consumers.

Time pressure is significantly associated with the risk of not meeting guidelines. Women who reported time pressure as a barrier were 40%, 47% and 35% less likely to meet fruit, vegetable consumption and physical activity guidelines respectively compared to those who did not report time as a barrier (p<0.0001).

Need to understand “Time Pressure” phenomenon

Long hours at work or study were the most commonly reported cause of time pressure. Inflexible and unpredictable hours at work or study were also reported as major causes of time pressure. Women who reported time pressure as a barrier (40%) to healthy eating consumed less fruits, vegetables, had less physical activity and eat fast-food more often, so that they are less likely to meet recommendations. Given the known benefits for health and well-being linked to F&V consumption and physical activity, these findings suggest the need to better understand the phenomenon of time pressure and its role in nutrition and physical activity.

  1. World Health Organisation (2003) Diet, Nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a joint WHO/FAO Expert consultation. Geneva.
  2. Trost SG et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2002;34:1996-2001.
  3. Andajani-Sutjahjo S et al. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2004;1:15.
  4. Dishman RK et al. Public Health Rep 1985;100:158-171.
  5. King AC et al. Health Educ Behav 1990;17:269-285.
  6. Welch N et al. Public Health Nutrition 2009 Jul;12(7):888-95
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